Re: ULE: covert vs overt

From: Charlie Stross (
Date: Thu Apr 19 2001 - 03:14:22 MDT

On Wed, Apr 18, 2001 at 08:39:01PM -0700, Spike Jones wrote:
> Charlie Stross wrote:
> > Even more interesting are the implications of the Bill of Rights (you
> > didn't know the UK had one, did you?) which has an explicit right
> > to privacy. ... -- Charlie
> I did not know that, thanks! As far as I can tell, the U.S. constitution
> doesn't guarantee privacy.

You may want to know where the UK's Bill of Rights comes from. Basically,
one of the requirements of the Maastricht Treaty was that all EU members
signatory to the treaty must pass certain laws -- including enacting the
European Declaration of Human Rights into law. Previously, the UK
recognized the European Court as a highest court of appeal, and the
European Court recognized the HR declaration as binding, so people with
a human rights case in the UK had to go to the European Court. As this
took a decade on average, having the human rights law on the books
in the UK seemed like a significant improvement.

One problem is that the European Declaration of Human Rights is modelled
on (damn near identical to) the UN Declaration of Human Rights. Which is
sufficiently riddled with weasel clauses to satisfy any Macchiavellian
legislation: for example, the right to free speech comes with riders
about "except where necessary for the defense of public health and morals",
whatever the hell that means. (I blame the 1950's, personally.)

On the other hand, the Declaration hasn't been around anything like as long
as the US constitution, so although its built-in loopholes are broader,
there has been far less time for prosecutors to work out run-arounds. Ergo:
it protects less well, but is probably more easily enforced, at least for
the time being.

(I'm inclined to take it as an improvement on the status quo ante and
bang the drum for more. If nothing else watching the politicians run
around fulminating about how all their good work is going to be undone by
the Human Rights Act which will let pesky citizens nullify their laws
is most amusing.)

> I have seen no clear evidence our society is getting more
> permissive, altho it is certainly getting more transparent.
> I can't tell the UK is getting more permissive, altho I hear
> it is becoming more transparent at a faster rate than the U.S.
> Consequently Im still rethinking my notions. spike
The UK is much less of a Christian society than the US. To put it in
perspective, only 14% of the population go to Church once a month or more
often; the most observant religious people in the UK are the moslems,
whose worshippers outnumber the Church of England devout (despite making
up only 2% of the population). Although the default entry on an English
birth certificate says "Church of England", in reality only about 58%
profess any belief in *anything* vaguely religious, and of those the
vast majority believe in a new-agey numinous universal spirit kind of
thing. Only about 30% believe in the historical existence of a person
called Jesus, for example.

One side effect of this is that the sort of policies the religious
right promote in the US fail to strike any kind of electoral chord over
here. We've recently seen the Prime Minister (himself a Christian) being
warned not to pander to religious institutions or voters for fear of
alienating the general population. Going back further, when Pat Robertson
set up a joint financial venture with the Bank of Scotland his position
on homosexuality and abortion caused such outrage that a major consumer
boycott started up within days: his strain of religiously-based politics
are seen as immoral in the UK, to the point that Outrage! and the Church
of Scotland were sharing a platform against him.

As far as permissiveness goes, there's still a blue-nosed tendency in the
UK, but it seems to be generationally stratified. Religiosity is twice
as common among the over-65's as among the under 35's, for example. So
is opposition to decriminalisation of cannabis, or to gay rights. This
suggests that the UK is going to get markedly more permissive over the
next twenty years as the significance of the current grey generation's
voting pattern subsides.

One case in point is teen pregnancy. The UK rate is about half that of
the US -- but double that of mainland Europe, and it's widely understood
that there's a direct correlation between explicit sex education in
schools and availability of contraceptives to teen agers and a lower teen
pregnancy rate. Nevertheless, we have a PM who wants to tell children that
"virginity is cool"; this statement was mocked by the press, but
doesn't seem to have cost him any votes -- there seems to be a disconnect
in the public mind where it comes to some hot-button issues.

Long-term forecast: continued social liberalization (outside of core
religious groups), backlash protests by fringe groups (e.g. anti-
abortionists -- in the UK they *are* a fringe group), increasing political
centralisation and authoritarianism battling with increasingly effective
civil rights legislation. Think of it as slow-motion assimilation of
the social messages of the 1960's, a process that was arrested in 1979
by Thatcher but which has now resumed its impact on society.

-- Charlie

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Copy us every "sig"!

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